Before bridges and roads in north Florida, the “roads” were rivers. Sawmill camps were supplied and turpentine shipped on the Belle of the Bend, a steamboat operated by Will Gray. Will was the steam engineer for the Belle. I was told by my father, Herman Gray that the hull of the Belle still rests on the Franklin side of the 319 bridge. The old railroad bridge is still in good shape, unused for 75 years
Will Gray also worked on the West Palm shipping channel driving steam-operated heavy equipment and dredges. When he was still a boy, Herman Gray, the father of Mayme Gray Millender, Maxie Gray Carroll and myself, drove in an open Model T with his sister, Ruth Gray Kendrick and their mother, Miss Emmie, to West Palm to visit their father, Will. Miss Emmie never drove. Herman was under 10; Ruth was just over 12. Imagine - dirt roads, river ferries and no Holiday Inns from Carrabelle to West Palm in a Model T Ford with a 10 –year-old at the wheel.
Miss Emmie's mother was a Yent and married a Maige, making her descendants related to Carrabelle's first two families.
Locally, Will, Cheryl (Sanders) and Lucretia Kendrick are Will Gray's grandchildren. Will Kendrick donated Grandpa Will's hot air engine to the state museum in the R.A. Gray building in Tallahassee. That non-steam engine originally powered a children's carousel, and later powered grandpa's wooden roof shake-making machine. When I was a baby he used the hot air engine to fill a large water tank on a tower next to his house for running water. Steam-powered equipment operators seemed to be in the family on Miss Emmie's side as one of her brothers, Willie McEachern, operated a steam boiler in a New York skyscraper for many years.
Anyone on a boat ride up the river around St. James Island can see that the scenery is the same as Grandpa Will Gray saw 100-plus years ago. The bends in the rivers are still the same. The logging camps are gone but the bluffs where they were located are still obvious.
Today, Will and Mary Ellen Gray’s great-great-grandchildren are now making that 50-mile river cruise by Waverunner. A couple of suggestions if you make the trip: Duck when going under Pine Log Bridge and return by the same river route. The alternative is coming across the bay from the Ochlocknee River to Carrabelle and by Waverunner the chop in the bay beats you up but the trip on the three rivers is pristine.